The fur-free club is growing, but its members have to pay their dues

Luxury & Brands

Text by Avani Thakkar. Illustrative collage by Aishwaryashree

Collage inspired by Valentino

Often regarded as a hallmark of out-of-touch shows of wealth, fur is seeing its long-standing affiliation with luxury fashion slowly but surely draw to a close as consumers more closely question the implications of their choices. Over the past few years, a domino effect of sorts has propelled big players across the industry, including but not limited to Gucci, Alexander McQueen, Chanel and Burberry, to ditch animal fur in favour of cruelty-free collections. You don’t need to be a PETA activist to understand the inherent issues with inhumane fur farms that fail to uphold even the most “basic animal welfare standards”, as evidenced in Certified Cruel – a report presented by the Fur Free Alliance in the European Parliament that exposed findings from several investigations on the fur trade. And chances are, you’ve come across disturbing visuals splattered across social media, of foxes, minks, beavers, rabbits and other animals being subjected to lack of water and food, confinement in battery-operated cages, stressful living conditions and, ultimately, barbaric slaughtering.

So, what prompted many fashion industry heavyweights to finally sit up, take notice and implement tangible change? We could probably credit Gen Z and its cultural representatives, given how this conscious cohort is unabashedly vocal about its concerns around climate change and ethical production practices. Nineteen-year-old singer Billie Eilish recently set the bar rather high when she agreed to wear Oscar de la Renta to this year’s Met Gala only if the more than five-decades-old American design house agreed to permanently stop using fur. Her ultimatum worked, and the prestigious event’s co-host channelled old Hollywood glam in a sweeping peach number by the brand on the red carpet. According to BOF’s (Business of Fashion) The State of Fashion 2021 report, Gen Z accounted for more than 40 per cent of global consumers in 2020, and these young buyers are clearly demanding more from brands as far as socio-political responsibility.

Consequently, businesses have been compelled to walk the talk, and Italian luxury giant Maison Valentino, spearheaded by creative director Pierpaolo Piccioli since 2008, is the latest to re-examine its brand values. By the end of 2021, Valentino will officially join the fur-free club, standing alongside OG members Vivienne Westwood, Stella McCartney and Victoria Beckham. While this move is significant, sustainability experts are of the opinion that the job is far from done. Yes, discontinuing the cadre of mink coats, bags and other garments that march down the runway during fashion weeks is undoubtedly a step in the right direction; the alternative, however, is increased faux fur production, which employs synthetic fabrics such as polyester and acrylic (aka plastic) and thus ushers in another crisis. In a nutshell, your non-biodegradable “fur” slippers from Boohoo will remain on the earth long after you’re gone, adding to the 381 million tonnes of plastic waste the world generates yearly, a number that is set to double by 2034. Does the Great Pacific Garbage Patch ring a bell? It’s quite literally a floating dumping ground of accumulated plastic waste – the largest in the world, spanning 1.6 square million kms.

Marine pollution may seem to be the lesser of two evils from certain perspectives (the jury on the internet is still divided), but that doesn’t nullify the harmful environmental impact of these manufacturing processes, especially from the rampant production of low-cost imitations by fast-fashion retailers. Today, one can purchase a “luxe” faux fur coat that seemingly does the same job as it’s cruel counterpart for as little as Rs 2,000, but who is keeping count of its ecological cost?

While we have the options of avoiding fur (real and fake) altogether or committing to purchase only secondhand genuine fur, faux fur textile and apparel manufacturers such as Ecopel are out to reduce this segment’s carbon footprint by devising eco-friendly garments. “It takes four times more energy to produce a real fur coat than a faux fur coat. The making of one mink fur coat emits seven times more CO2 than the making of one faux fur coat,” they report. The company’s efforts have struck a chord with British designer and pioneer of vegan fashion, Stella McCartney, and she seems to be betting on the unconventional substitutes being devised by their team. In 2019, McCartney and Ecopel unveiled KOBA Fur Free Fur – the world’s first sustainable faux fur made with 100 per cent plant-based ingredients and recycled polyester supplied by DuPont™ Sorona. Shrimps, a London-based fashion brand founded by Hannah Weiland, is another notable industry example that relies on recycled plastics to design its plush range of faux fur outerwear.

Valentino is all set to make waves in the same domain, reveals its CEO Jacopo Venturini in a press statement: “We are moving full-steam ahead in the research of alternative materials in view of a greater attention to the environment for the upcoming collections.” In a world where mushrooms and pineapples can be converted into leather-like materials (for those who aren’t in the know, look up Mylo or Piñatex), surely there is potential to come up with equally viable and safe replacements for real fur?

Either way, the majority of luxury fashion’s stakeholders are steering directions to become part of the solution instead of the source of the problem (as divisive as the routes may be) – and that warrants an A for effort.

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